Protect open spaces in Nairobi estates

Property developers have invaded many open spaces in many of Nairobi’s residential estates at an alarming rate.

Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Nyeri and other major towns have not been spared either as the lords of impunity grab any available public land with the connivance of the authorities.

In Nairobi, several estates have had their communal land taken by well-connected individuals who then quickly construct buildings on the contested parcels. Reports to the concerned authorities have largely been ignored. Meanwhile, residents continue to suffer in silence as powerful cartels sub-divide the open spaces among themselves.

Those who muster the courage to protest are sometimes repulsed with brutal force, including attacks by armed gangs. These ruthless property developers not only come armed and ready to unleash violence but also with purported legitimate land documents and building plans. How do such individuals access crucial land ownership certificates and approved building plans... Are there corrupt officers dishing out such documents through the back door?

Kenyans must be assured of the sanctity of land ownership documents to guarantee integrity of land transactions and investments. Indeed, many deserving Kenyans have been conned of their legitimate property by fraudsters carrying fake land title deeds. This has also sparked off numerous land disputes some of which have resulted in fatal conflicts.

The Ministry of Lands, the National Land Commission (NlC) and the county and national governments must urgently put their foot down to protect communal land across the 47 counties. The open spaces being grabbed now are supposed to be playgrounds for children, wetlands or even part of the drainage system. By denying children playgrounds, we disrupt their normal growth and drive them to anti-social behaviour if they pursue dangerous recreational distractions that could involve the use of drugs. 

By grabbing wetlands, we interfere with the ecosystem and further accelerate the adverse effects of climate change. Already, the country’s rain patterns has changed, adversely affecting crop production, making farming communities even more vulnerable to drought and floods. For this, the future generation won’t forgive us.

By grabbing drainage and sewer systems, we render our towns ‘unlivable’ and compromise the safe disposal of waste.

Nairobi, for instance, has for decades been struggling to establish an efficient waste management system. With many city estates chocking in garbage, it’s clear that success in this critical function is far from being realized. The city’s knee-jerk reaction to flooding, which largely involves last-minute attempts to unblock drains and sewers during the rain season, does not inspire confidence in the Nairobi County’s ability to protect the lives and property of Nairobians.

We urge the national and county governments, the Ministry of Lands, the NLC and all stakeholders to take a firm resolve against individuals who have appropriated communal land. Buildings on communal land should be brought down at the owner’s cost to deter future land grabs. Only when decisive action is taken against the powerful cartels grabbing  playgrounds will the city develop and accommodate the growing population in a healthy environment.  

The Nairobi County Government must follow through its plan of pulling down illegally-constructed houses and commercial buildings in the city. All Kenyans must support such painful undertakings to save the future generations. Why should a few selfish ‘developers’ be allowed to profit at the expense of the city’s future?

Finally, Kenyans living in towns should be encouraged to form strong residents’ associations to protect open spaces and defend their rights. The associations are best placed to promote better living conditions and champion the creation and maintenance of clean and secure neighbourhoods where children can play. City residents must unite against land grabbers and demand appropriate action from the authorities to protect what is rightfully theirs.